Some 90 delegates from Sailability groups across the country as far afield as Scotland to the New Forest attended the 5th annual Sailability conference and dinner (Wyboston Lakes, Bedfordshire, 25 February) where the winners of the RYA Sailability Volunteer Awards were announced.  

The RYA Sailability Volunteer Awards presented by RYA Sailability Chairman Pat Dodd,  recognise the priceless voluntary contribution by Sailability volunteers. They are awarded in three categories Significant Contribution, Outstanding Contribution and Exceptional Contribution.  

Significant Achievement

The winner of the Significant Achievement Award was Carol Canning who was instrumental in introducing Sailability to Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (DOSC). Carol coordinates all aspects of the programme both onshore and out on the water, making a huge difference not just for the club, but for the entire Sailing Community in Dubai.  

In true awards ceremony style, Carol was unable to attend to collect her award but instead had recorded a video message thanking those at the club who have helped to make it all possible.  

Outstanding Contribution

The outstanding contribution award went to Michael Kemm who unfortunately was unable to attend. Michael's work and dedication as Treasurer and Secretary at Rutland SC enabled the Sailability group to develop and become one of the biggest and most active Sailability clubs in the UK.  

Exceptional Contribution

The final award for exceptional contribution went to Eric Blyth, Chairman of New Forest and District Sailability (NFDS).  For the past 11 years Eric has been committed to introducing disabled people to sailing and has seen the organisation develop from having just three boats in the early days, to the 80 volunteers and 17 boats that the club boasts today.  

Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Eric is dependent on a wheel chair but this does not stop him skippering boats to allow other disabled people to experience being out on the water.  

"All I have been doing is sailing and taking people out on the water"

"I feel like a bit of a fraud being given this award, all I have been doing is sailing and taking people out on the water! I am absolutely delighted and will accept this award on behalf on everyone involved in NFDS".  

The dinner also saw guest speaker Bob Harper, Sailability Regional Organiser for Northern Ireland share his fascinating and inspirational stories from the five year long world circumference navigation he completed 11 years ago.  

Earlier in the day, Sailability Manager Debbie Blachford kicked started the conference by announcing that in the past four years, the number of people who now sail regularly as a result of Sailability has increased by a fantastic 76%.  

Delegates were treated to a variety of guest speakers throughout the morning, including South West RYA Regional Development Officer Tony Wood who gave an informative safety update and National Windsurfing Development Officer Gillian Wright who introduced a new windsurfing initiative Project Windsurf-UK.  

Panel of experts

After lunch it was time for the interactive workshops sessions with three different sessions available to attend. Delegates were also given the opportunity to address their questions to the 'panel of experts' who offered advice on a range of topics including insurance by Gallagher Heath, legal matters and Disability Awareness Training.  

Bob Mac Cormick from Wealdon Sailability said: "Today's conference has been extremely interesting and very worthwhile. I found the insurance advice particularly helpful and will be taking home lots of new ideas with me."  

Fantastic atmosphere

Debbie Blachford, RYA Sailability Manager said: "I would like to thank everyone who attended this year's conference. The atmosphere has been absolutely fantastic and it is wonderful to see so many people involved with Sailability coming together and sharing ideas. We hope to see even more next year".  

Thank you to Gallagher Heath and all the event sponsors.  

For more information about RYA Sailability visit the RYA website click on the Sailability link at the bottom of the home page.